US Open Men’s Preview

Posted by Brodie under: USO

28 Aug 2015

arthur ashe atp

First Quarter – Djokovic’s Quarter

At first look, this is a scary looking quarter for Djokovic. Pospisil in the second round, and of course Nadal in the quarterfinals. While we are still talking about Rafael Nadal, he can be a rather predictable player. Maybe it’s because he practices at full tilt and plays all his matches with nearly equal intensity that we generally know his form coming into bigger tournaments – he’s not a type of player who waits to “turn it on” for bigger events – but it’s difficult to see this going any way but Novak’s. Five sets on quicker courts will do Nadal no favours, and Djokovic is still the best player in the world.

The only other real challenger in this section is Milos Raonic. He’s struggled to find proper form after surgery, and he never really has much of a chance against Djokovic’s fantastic returning, especially across five sets where it’s tougher to get a bit lucky in a couple of tiebreaks. It looks scary at first, but Djokovic should advance to the semifinals easily, maybe without even dropping a set.

Predicted Quarterfinal – N. Djokovic vs. R. Nadal

Second Quarter – Nishikori’s Quarter

What’s up with both second quarters of both draws being total messes? We all love you, Kei, but you’re impossibly hard to predict when your body is falling apart every other week. Dimitrov is slowly turning into this generation’s Berdych, a player who can look brilliant at times, even beat top players, and look hopelessly lost and checked out at others.

How’s this for another batch of players who are impossible to predict – Tsonga, Monfils and even last year’s champion (hey, remember that?) Marin Cilic. In his defense, Cilic has always performed well at the US Open, but does anyone really know what kind of form he’s in? Could Tsonga show up and make a run? Either way, this quarter more or less guarantees some serious changes in the rankings in a couple of weeks time.

Predicted Quarterfinal – J.W. Tsonga vs. J. Chardy

Third Quarter – Wawrinka’s Quarter

I was legitimately surprised to hear that Kyrgios and Murray were slated to play in the first round, mostly because I thought Kyrgios would be seeded. And therein lies the problem. Nick Kyrgios has yet to put together a good, consistent string or results, and he probably doesn’t have the wherewithal to put together a solid game plan that he can execute against Murray, such as being a bit more patient earlier in rallies. I actually find this quarter rather boring and will likely be very predictable, barring some sort of epic Stan collapse.

Predicted Quarterfinal – S. Wawrinka vs. A. Murray

Fourth Quarter – Federer’s Quarter

This quarter is all about Federer. He should have a couple of easy warm up matches against Leo Mayer and then Darcis or Baghdatis. I’ll be curious to see if Kohls or Isner can push him and take a set or two off of him to see how he responds. Fed was excellent in Cincy, but he was never really challenged, and he can be stubborn when up against someone who is employing a game plan that is working against him. Federer has looked very good of late, but let’s not pretend like this is the Federer of years ago.

Elsewhere, ready your servebot gifs! Isner and Karlovic at night on Arthur Ashe would be hilarious, mostly to see (and hear) people going crazy over aces and ridiculous(ly boring) tiebreaks.

The rest of this quarter doesn’t serve up a heck of a lot, outside of Berdych and Gasquet, who are tough to have much faith on at the best of times. Gasquet/Kokkinakis is likely the second best first round match after Murray/Kyrgios and the best in this section, and the winner of that match will play the winner of the almost equally as enticing Hasse/Brown match. As far as early round ATP matches go, pretty fun. Overall, the top half of this draw looks like it will be a lot more fun.

Predicted Quarterfinal – T. Berdych vs. R. Federer

Predicted Semifinals – A. Murray vs. R. Federer, N. Djokovic vs. J.W. Tsonga
Predicted Final – A. Murray vs. N. Djokovic
Champion – N. Djokovic

US Open Women’s Preview

Posted by Brodie under: USO

28 Aug 2015

arthur ashe wta2

First Quarter – Serena’s Quarter

A thought occurred to me after seeing Serena’s draw – what odds would you need to bet the field over Serena? While Williams is in one of the most dominant stretches of her career, we like to quickly forget the tough, earlier round losses she can sometimes have, and she is human. She remains the favourite to win this section and the tournament, but it certainly doesn’t look easy.

Sloane Stephens in the third round is one hell of a warm up match for the rest of the tournament. Sloane captured her first title this summer and looks to be in strong form, and she has always relished the pressure that comes along with slams. Beyond that, she could face Madison Keys, though the young American’s health and lack of playing time will likely prevent her from getting that far.

Elsewhere, a possible meeting with Bencic (who defeated her in Toronto), Pliskova or even her sister, Venus, await. Under the bright lights of Center Court, these should be manageable matches. This is all in theory, of course, and whoever Serena gets will be a tricky test. When you write her into the semifinals use pencil, not pen.

Predicted Quarterfinal – S. Williams vs. B. Bencic

Second Quarter – Sharapova’s Quarter

To put it honestly, this quarter is a bit of a mess. A primetime showdown of Sharapova and Ivanovic in the quarterfinals would be ideal for tournament organizers, but seems highly unlikely to happen after Sharapova hasn’t had a summer hard court season due to injury. Ivanovic herself has a very difficult first round match against Cibulkova.

The remaining names – Jankovic, Bouchard, Kuznetsova hardly inspire much confidence. Expect this section to implode and quickly. Your guess is as good as mine.

Predicted Quarterfinal – E. Svitolina vs. R. Vinci

Third Quarter – Wozniacki’s Quarter

It’s a shame Petra Kvitova has been suffering from mono lately. While she’s been healthy enough to play and practice, she’s been working with her team to make sure they find the proper balance, and she’s definitely not at 100% heading into New York. She’s never made it past the fourth round, and the extreme heat can make things more difficult for her, as well. It’s not set to be as hot as it can be – could that help her out a bit?

It’s tough to know where Caro Wozniacki stands health wise, as well. She always notes that this is her favourite tournament, and it can translate into her style of play which seems to include just about 5 to 10% more aggression which has got her some big wins in New York.

Otherwise, we should all be watching Garbine Muguruza closely if she can pass the first couple of hurdles. The relatively quick courts will do her wonders if she can find a groove, and she isn’t slated to face anyone particularly difficult until the third round, with Andrea Petkovic. With all that said, it’s difficult to have a ton of confidence in any of the top three seeds.

Predicted Quarterfinal – A. Petkovic vs. C. Wozniacki

Fourth Quarter – Halep’s Quarter

Halep fans should be pretty thrilled with this quarter. Ideally she will get a match or two on Arthur Ashe and get used to some of the bigger courts in New York, and her first couple of matches should be easily winnable ones. Beyond that, she could face players such as Lisicki or Bascinszky – but that’s all assuming they can actually make it that far. Slapmila Giorgi could be a bit of a sleeper in this section as well.

Otherwise, the match of this section could be a third round match of Kerber and Azarenka. Vika is still finding her form and Kerber has been excellent this summer, and Kerber might even be the favourite to win that match. They’ll likely face off against Safarova who has found some fantastic later career form, and is the sixth seed in New York.

This section is a tough one to call, particularly the eighth with Vika, Kerber and Safarova – it may depend on the health and form of Vika which is still very much up and down.

Predicted Quarterfinal – A. Kerber vs. S. Halep

Predicted Semifinals – S. Williams vs. E. Svitolina, C. Wozniacki vs. S. Halep
Predicted Final – S. Williams vs. S. Halep
Champion – S. Williams

24 Aug 2015

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It’s the Mind The Racket Podcast, Episode 5! I’m joined by Bri AKA @4thetennis and we break down Federer and Serena’s impressive runs to the titles, the rest of the ATP’s chances at the US Open, Halep refinding her form and so much more!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, rate, review and tell a friend!

18 Aug 2015

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Episode 4 of the now weekly Mind The Racket Podcast! Featuring Bri AKA @4thetennis. We talk Belinda, Serena, why the Kyrgios thing is such a big deal, Murray, Nadal and so much more!

Also available on iTunes. Subscribe! https://itunes.apple.com/si/podcast/mind-the-racket/id596038464?mt=2

Men’s Wimbledon Draw Preview

Posted by Brodie under: SW19

26 Jun 2015

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Ladies Wimbledon Draw Preview can be found here.

Novak’s Quarter

The defending champion will be less than thrilled to kick off his title defence against a seriously difficult opponent, Philip Kohlschreiber. His play translates well on grass, and while it’s difficult to see him winning, it’s an uncomfortable start for Djokovic.

From there, things get much more straight forward. Tomic can’t hurt him, and Djokovic will easily handle the serve of Anderson and either Isner or Cilic in the section below him. Nishikori, if healthy, may be able to slide into the fourth round, but doesn’t pose a serious threat to Djokovic either. Pretty straight forward stuff for the defending champ.

Quarterfinal Prediction – N. Djokovic vs J. Isner

 

Stan’s Quarter

It’s tough to know how well Stan could do here. I touched on this in my brief Periscope talk (hey, follow me there too. Fun!) that while Stan’s power is rewarded on grass, the ball just doesn’t sit up for him like he would prefer, particularly on his backhand side. All that said, he has an incredibly nice draw – perks of being the four seed. He should make the quarterfinals easily.

With all of that said, the bottom part of this section could feature two incredibly juicy third round matches – Dimitrov vs Gasquet and Raonic vs Kyrgios. Yum. I loved what I saw from Raonic during Queen’s, and mostly just thought he got tired. His decision making was quite sound, and the things you worry about him losing from missing time, particularly his net game, looked around where they need to be. Here’s hoping for a Dimitrov/Raonic match in the fourth round. Always a blast.

Quarterfinal Prediction – S. Wawrinka vs M. Raonic

 

Murray’s Quarter

Another quarter, another great draw for the top seed in it. Let’s be honest – the only real threat in this section to Murray is Nadal. Tsonga has been injured – there were rumours of him skipping Wimbledon – and it’s hard to see him being fit enough to outlast Murray in five sets. Look for the return of Ivo Karlovic in the fourth round.

As for Nadal, it’s nothing but good news. He has a long list of very beatable players with pretty minor names like Troicki or Pospisil that could be any sort of minor threat. In other words, it’s nearly impossible to imagine Murray/Nadal not happening in the quarterfinals. If I could somehow bet on that, I probably would.

Side note – I really hope Dustin Brown vs. Yen-Hsun Lu is put on a show court. Two wildly different but incredibly entertaining players on grass. That should be a must watch match – seriously. (The winner plays Nadal. Single tear.)

Quarterfinal Prediction – A. Murray vs R. Nadal

 

Roger’s Quarter

Could a quarter be filled with any more unpredictable players? Fed has a bunch of players that likely will not beat him but could cause him some fits, Feli, Sock and Querrey. The other side features another trio of excellent, yet unpredictable players in Berdych, Simon and Monfils.

Simon looked excellent in Queens, though he does love to lose randomly and horribly early in slams at times. Ditto for Berdych. This section is likely to produce some fun matches – especially if Simon and Monfils can happen – but its tough to really see who could come through to beat Federer.

Quarterfinal Prediction – R. Federer vs G. Simon

 

Semifinal Predictions – N. Djokovic vs M. Raonic, A. Murray vs R. Federer

Final Prediction – N. Djokovic vs Andy Murray

Champion – Andy Murray

 

Ladies Wimbledon Draw Preview

Posted by Brodie under: SW19

26 Jun 2015

wimbledon ladies

The men’s draw preview can be found here.

Serena’s Quarter

It’s easy to forget how great Serena Williams has been over the past year. She is the overwhelming favourite as she goes for another Serena slam – winning the past four majors after cleaning up in Paris. And while I’ve seen headlines that Serena has been “unlucky” with her draw to land her sister Venus in the same section, we need to remember it’s the year 2015, not 2005. In fact, it is far from a guarantee that Venus will even make it that far.

The small section opposite her is far more juicy, however. Still just ranked 23rd and a total wildcard, Victoria Azarenka looks likely to face off with Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round. All that said, the winner of Belinda Bencic and Tsvetana “Pironkadonk” Pironkova could go on to upset Ivanovic. Hell, they could even come out of that section. Regardless, there promises to be some great matches early in this section, and that’s all you can ask for.

Quarterfinal Prediction – S. Williams vs B. Bencic

 

Maria’s Quarter

How good is Maria Sharapova right now? I honestly have no idea. The good news is, she likely has three very winnable, straight sets matches to get started and play her way into the tournament. With Petkovic and Pennetta in the other part of her section, she is a near lock to make the quarterfinals regardless of her form.

The rest of this quarter could serve up some must watch stuff. Karolina Pliskova lurks with a fantastic draw, and much like Sharapova, I think may play herself into this tournament. Stephens kicks off with a difficult match against Strycova, and a streaking Safarova rounds it out as the sixth seed. Lucie has been great lately, but it’s difficult to not like Pliskova if you have seen her play lately.

Quarterfinal Prediction – M. Sharapova vs Ka. Pliskova

 

Simona’s Quarter

This quarter is a mess, and I love it. Unfortunately for all of my Romanian friends out there, this isn’t a great draw for Simona who could be in tough from the second match on. Puig/Kuznetsova/Lisicki is a brutal run in.

There’s plenty else to be excited about in this quarter, however. Sabine Lisicki is a monster on grass, and has loved starting a tradition of saving match points and advancing dramatically at Wimbledon. She would be slated to play Wozniacki, however, her back injury at Eastbourne looked quite serious (she didn’t even receive treatment for it before retiring) and I have a difficult time seeing her go far. That likely leaves one of Kerber, Giorgi or Muguruza to come out of that section and make the quarterfinals. Flip a coin with this section, it’s a madhouse.

Quarterfinal Prediction – A. Kerber vs S. Lisicki

 

Petra’s Quarter

Petra Kvitova loves grass, but she really loves Wimbledon. She comes alive just talking about the tournament, and as the defending champion, you know she will be a major player yet again.

Her draw would encourage that thought, as well. Her section features Jankovic and likely either Svitolina or Radwanska. These are all players she should handily blow off the court. Beyond that she could get another big hitting lefty, Makarova, or possibly Madison Keys (…or Bouchard, yikes). These are players who play similarly to how she does on grass, but not quite as well. In other words, it’s one extreme or the other, and she has to be a massive favourite to get through her section, and arguably even the final.

Quarterfinal Prediction – P. Kvitova vs M. Keys

 

Semifinal Predictions – S. Williams vs Ka. Pliskova, P. Kvitova vs A. Kerber

Final Prediction – S. Williams vs P. Kvitova

Champion – Petra Kvitova

25 Jun 2015

pondertheracket

Programming note – things are still a bit slow as I get back to doing all this, however I plan on writing a lot for Wimbledon, especially the second week, and look for the podcast to return as well.

– Who is the men’s favourite for Wimbledon? It’s always tough to judge where Novak is at before Australia and Wimbledon, two of his favourite tournaments, and two tournaments he rarely plays warm up tournaments too. Murray looked relaxed, focused, and all around excellent at Queen’s and could be the 1B choice for overall favourite.

– Say it again – Belinda Bencic is a tank. Not only does she have a well rounded game, but a fantastic head on her shoulders. She’s competitive yet focused, and the eternal glare of Martina Hingis on the sidelines is a constant reminder of where that mindset comes from.

– Oh, Petko. The first three points of her match against Caro included a missed down the line backhand, and two made down the line forehand winners. It was clear that she knew she needed to take the initiative against the Golden Retriever. Even then, she got dragged around on serve and had difficulty holding. Petko has always had trouble changing directions. I really think her figuring out how to up the racquet head speed of her backhand when going down the line could really unlock that shot, and give her an extra 5% or so that could make a massive difference.

– Nice to see Aga Radwanska winning again. It just wouldn’t be grass season without seeing her make some ridiculous, ankle breaking shots.

– Hey, and Sloane Stephens too. It’s tough to know when or if her interest in non slams will ever turn a corner, but these are already some much needed points for her ranking.

– I worry about Nick Kyrgios. The dude is clearly very talented, but still raw. His knack for wanting to enjoy his time in the limelight – particularly engaging with fans – is refreshing. But at this point, it’s fair to wonder about his dedication to becoming a better tennis player, and even if he’s burning out a bit. He certainly has the ability to be a top 10, huge talent a couple of years down the road. Here’s hoping it’s a bit smoother from here on out.

– Another year, another appearance from Tsvetana Pironkova AKA Pironkadonk. Her ability to hit big yet spin, slice, keep the ball low and drive opponents mad on grass (and grass alone) makes for consistently fascinating viewing. A true grass court specialist, in the weirdest way, and something you would only ever see in tennis

23 Jun 2015

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Belinda Bencic is a Tank

Belinda Bencic defeated defending Eastbourne champion Madison Keys 6-2, 6-2 in under an hour.

Belinda Bencic used a variety of serves and placements at an absurd 82% to avoid facing a break point all match.

Belinda Bencic took advantage of Keys’ weaknesses, keeping the ball consistently deep to create attackable balls she could put angles on.

Belinda Bencic drove to the net brilliantly to force Keys to have to hit a fantastic passing shot – she rarely did.

Belinda Bencic can get low and absorb pace, making her well suited to grass.

Belinda Bencic is coached by Martina Hingis, and it shows.

Belinda Bencic is 18 years old.

Belinda Bencic is a tank.

21 Jun 2015

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One of the greatest things about the WTA is the wild and obvious contrast in styles across players. Never is that more obvious than when two players who excel on a particular surface for different reasons face off in tight final like we saw Sunday in Birmingham, as Kerber inched past Pliskova in three sets, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6.

Pliskova has come a long way in the past year, and it really starts with her improved movement. She’s tall and long, and can crush the ball. She’s never going to be a player who can run around and defend, but her problems largely arose from the fact that she could only really attack the ball if it popped up into her hitting zone. Otherwise, there were a lot of flat footed, poor errors.

Her improved movement gets her to the ball a half step quicker, and suddenly she’s able to attack balls in a trickier spot, or on the run. She did this brilliantly at the end of the first set and for flashes in the third. Everyone always talks about being aggressive, but that is always built out of making two good shots. Pliskova routinely hit a deep, flat ball cross court, received a short, cross court return right back to where she was standing, and then crushed it down the line, from both wings. When she was doing this, she stayed patient and often smacked it into the same corner a few times – she knew it was deep enough that Kerber couldn’t change direction, and she was in control.

The difference in the match really  came when Pliskova lost some of her depth in the second set. Kerber’s fantastic ability to keep her swings short is incredibly effective against those who use pace. It also means that it’s a highly repeatable motion, and she can change direction in a safe but effective way – a true counterpuncher.

Furthermore, she loves to get crafty. Her drop shots and variety disrupted Pliskova’s comfort on the baseline, and slowed the pace of rallies down.

All in all, Kerbz is a treat on grass and this was a well earned first title on the surface. Her ability to squat down and ping balls back is fantastic. She can counters big hitters not just with a change in direction, but with drop shots and effective lobs and passing shots.

Both of these players are certainly ones to watch for at Wimbledon, particularly if the match up is right. Pliskova should dominate opponents who struggle to hit with consistent depth and impose themselves, and Kerber should gobble up bigger hitting, lower ranked players or those who like to run but have less craft than her.

Wimbledon can’t come soon enough.

19 Jun 2015

pondertheracket

– Grass court tennis remains one of the oddest phenomenons in all of sport. The surface the sport was initially played on outdoors gets all of five weeks in the spotlight of the tour. The switch from clay is beyond jarring, and it’s as if the entirety of both tours travel to the moon to play. They might as well.

– Three weeks between Roland Garros and Wimbledon is fantastic. More tournaments and time gives players more opportunity to setup their schedule as they see fit. In my opinion, the added week between has seen the quality of Queen’s be particularly high, and it’s clear players have had the chance to get used to the speed and conditions.

– Grass is a great time to watch some weird players, particularly those who don’t hit too hard. Kerber and Gilles have been a blast as they’ve dug out ankle height balls, hit absurd running passing shots, and used spin and low dipping shots to frustrate their opponents and dictate play in a way that is only possible on such a low bouncing surface.

– Gilles Muller played the perfect first set against Andy Murray, giving a master class on how to beat him. Murray thrives when his opponent starts hitting into space and creating angles. He will push his opponent even further out wide, and use his creativity and variety to end points, as well as getting to net on grass.

– Muller served and volleyed effectively, but he also kept the ball central and played safe during rallies, which tamed Murray. Furthermore, he approached the net on shots that were effectively deep and right at Murray, instead of creating an angle and approaching. The onus was on Murray to come up with his own spectacular angle, and failed time after time. A great example of how to play up and down on grass, not left to right.

– If you get a chance to watch Yen Hsun Lu at Wimbledon, do so. A shorter player who loves to keep the ball low, he forces some seriously old timey, long grass rallies at such a consistency that you can’t help but enjoy yourself, regardless of who is on the other side of the net.

– Much has been made of Halep struggling with her serve, but for me, her lack of confidence in her backhand is what is really costing her. She does such an excellent job of pushing opponents around by creating angles from the middle of the court, and going inside out. She’s still doing that with her forehand, but when the time comes to do it on the backhand side, or even go down the line with it, she tends to hit it much more central and safe, or worse, go for it and make an error. It’s just not on, and it’s freezing up her entire style of play, and what makes her so effective, especially when returning.

– Most people called Raonic’s loss to Simon a choke – he missed several simple forehand returns in the final game – but it was clear he was exhausting, and nearly panting between points at the end. His stamina will return, and with another week off to train and a day off in between during Wimbledon, he looks in good shape for the third slam of the season. Serving huge, hitting effective inside out forehands, and playing pretty well at net are all great signs. The sneaking in on very poor approach shots still needs to go, however, especially when he needs to defend the passing shot on his backhand.

– Poor Delpo. The big man posted a nearly tearful video to YouTube several days ago, announcing that it is not tendinitis effecting his left wrist, but damage to the tendon that will require yet another surgery. He hasn’t played since Miami of this year, and with the traditional big 4 failing to impress at times, we certainly could have used him in 2015. Here’s hoping he can have a fully healthy season in 2016.

– I haven’t seen enough of Bouchard to really know what’s going on, but what a disappointing drop off this has been. In her loss to Mladenovic, she looked like a very bad Julia Goerges circa 2013. Hitting incredibly safe, nothing forehands while at other times going for insane winners she had no business going for. In other words, she lacked patience to hit the ball into space, stay solid from the baseline and actually construct points. And as she got frustrated, things went off the rails and she was easily bageled in the third set. It’s not looking good.

Mind The Racket Podcast:

Episode 5 – Federer and Serena Dominating, ATP and Halep